On a cold, dreary day, NIU was able to cling on to victory over Buffalo thanks to a botched extra point attempt.
Buffalo (2-6, 1-3 MAC) started a furious comeback in the final minutes and could have stolen the game away from the Huskies (5-3, 3-1 MAC). But in the end, turnovers, mistakes and not enough time resulted in a 31-30 victory for the Huskies.
NIU head coach Dave Doeren said the difference came down to just one play.
"We made one more play than they did," Doeren said in a press release. "I was pretty disappointed in the finish. We've got to learn to close games a little bit better. We've got to play better than that."
Early field goals by both teams resulted in a 3-3 deadlock going into the second quarter, although Bulls kicker Peter Fardon, shankedan early field goal that would have given his team a 6-3 lead.
In an effort to confuse Buffalo's 3-4 defense, the Huskies used nine different ball carriers and completed passes to seven different receivers. Buffalo struggled on special teams early on, fumbling twice on punt returns.
Quarterback Chandler Harnish guided the Huskies on their first scoring drive on a touchdown dive by tailback Jasmin Hopkins. After Buffalo responded with a touchdown run by quarterback Chazz Anderson, Harnish ran one in himself from six yards out as NIU took a 17-10 lead at halftime.
In the third quarter, NIU scored twice in the first five minutes to push its lead to 31-10 on the strength of two Hopkins touchdowns. Hopkins had a big day for the Huskies, finishing with 53 yards on 16 carries and three touchdowns.
Both teams looked dull after their last scores. Buffalo turned the ball over twice, and the Huskies went three and out on four straight possessions, three straight to begin the fourth quarter, much to the dismay of Doeren.
"We didn't get any first downs in the fourth quarter," Doeren said. "We didn't convert third downs in the fourth quarter, and we couldn't stop them on fourth down on defense."
After the first few minutes of the fourth quarter, Buffalo started to mount a comeback and scored 20 unanswered points. Those points came on touchdown passes from Anderson, who completed 35 of 53 passes for 405 yards and three touchdowns. Bulls' running back Brandon Oliver ran over the Huskies' defense for 112 yards on 28 carries.
NIU had its chances to stop Buffalo on fourth down, but couldn't stop Anderson and Oliver from making plays.
"I have to give Buffalo credit; they had two of the best players I've seen all year with that running back and quarterback," said NIU linebacker Pat Schiller in a press release. "They were phenomenal players."
A big part of Buffalo's comeback was due to NIU's lack of pressure on the quarterback; in 54 pass attempts, the Huskies failed to record a sack.
After the last Bulls touchdown made the score 31-30 NIU, the Bulls, trailing by one point, decided to kick the point after attempt. The point would have taken the game into overtime, but Fardon missed the point after try, giving the relived Huskies an unexpected win.
"When it came down to that final point, sometimes it's better to be lucky than good," Schiller said. "We were lucky right there."